Exploding Rows With Tally Tables

Kevin Feasel

2018-07-02

T-SQL

Riley Major shows how to use a tally table to turn one row into several rows:

Imagine a simple table containing contact information. It has two places for phone numbers (Phone1 and Phone2). Let’s say you wanted to split those off into a related phone numbers table so you could support many more numbers for a single contact. As part of that process, you’d need to create two rows for each existing contact– one for each phone number.

One way to get two phone numbers is to handle each phone number as a separate process, combining a list of all contacts and their first number with those same contacts and their second number. So you’d SELECT everything from the table once for the first phone number and then UNION it with another SELECT. This works, but if you have a large list of columns or a complex set of JOINs, you end up repeating a lot of code.

Instead, what if you simply, magically double the rows and then pick and choose the columns you wanted from each of the rows?

Tally tables are a great “Get out of a bad design (relatively) cheap” tool.  They’re not something I use on a daily basis, but they’ve made life easier for me on dozens of occasions.

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